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Anna Journey

Anna Journey is the author of the poetry collections Vulgar Remedies (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern California. 

By This Poet

4

Mississippi: Origins

My parents come from a place where all the houses stop
at one story

for the heat. Where every porch—front
and back—simmers in black screens that sieve

mosquitoes from our blood. Where everyone knows
there’s only one kind of tea:

served sweet. The first time my father
introduced my mother to his parents,

his mother made my mother change
the bed sheets in the guest room. She’d believed it

a gesture of intimacy. My grandmother
saved lavender hotel soaps and lotions

to wrap and mail as gifts at Christmas. My grandfather
once shot the head off a rattlesnake

in the gravel driveway of the house he built
in Greenwood. He gave the dry rattle to my mother

the same week I was born, saying, Why don’t you
make something out of it.

Wedding Night: We Share an Heirloom Tomato on Our Hotel Balcony Overlooking the Ocean in Which Natalie Wood Drowned

for David

We imagine Natalie held a gelatinous green 
sliver on her tongue, that its watery 

disk caught the lamplight before 
she slipped from her yacht 

to drown in the waves off this island. This was
thirty years ago. And our tomato’s strain 

stretches back decades, to an heirloom seed 
saved before either of us was born, 

before Natalie’s elbow 
brushed the clouded jade 

face of the ancestral fruit
in a Catalina stand, before she handed it

to her husband, saying, This one. We hover
near the plate, where the last 

half of our shadowed tomato 
sits in its skin’s deep pleats. I lean 

toward you to trace each 
salted crease with a thumbnail—

brined and wild as those lines 
clawed in the green 

side of the yacht’s 
rubber dinghy. Those lingering 

shapes the coroner found—the drowned 
actress’s scratch marks. That night

we first met, I had another lover 
but you didn’t 

care. My Bellini’s peach puree, 
our waiter said, had sailed across 

the Atlantic, from France. It swirled 
as I sipped and sank 

to the glass bottom 
of my champagne flute. You whispered, 

Guilt is the most
useless emotion. After Natalie rolled 

into the waves, the wet feathers
of her down coat wrapped 

their white anchors 
at her hips. This was 1981. I turned 

a year old that month and somewhere 
an heirloom seed 

washed up. You felt an odd breeze 
knock at your elbow as I took

my first step. We hadn’t yet met. 
Tonight, we watch the wet date palms tip 

toward the surf and, curling,
swallow their tongues.

The Atheist Wore Goat Silk

I’ve wanted to visit the genetically modified goat
spliced with silkworm DNA
spinning white threads from its pink udders
like a piebald spider. I’ve wondered how much
for a whole goat silk dress? Always I save
the spiders that shimmy near my eyes
but never the bristled silverfish
which drop to the boatwood dinner table
from the skylight. Come Indian Summer
the fuchsia bougainvillea unpurses
its dry lips, licks the sweat
from my neck. My mother tells her childhood
best friend—who’s dying from liver
cancer in Jackson, who consults
a Pentecostal woman who speaks
in tongues—that her two daughters
are atheists. Meaning my little sister and me.
Somewhere there’s a goat that squirts
a rare silk so bizarre maybe
no one would actually wear it. That webbed dress
sticking to my chest, the grandfather
clock, all over the bedroom walls like a past
that drags everything with it. The thread
leading back to an animal I badly
need to believe in. Its impossible milk
steams in the twilight. There’s a dress
that rises from its udders with a misted
sleeve I can almost see.